For many people in the world, the idea of a God and a Savior dying on a Roman cross and being raised from the dead just doesn’t make any sense. This is not new, however.

In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul said,

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…”…1 Corinthians 1:18

A few verses later, he adds,

“But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jew a stumbling block and to the Gentiles foolishness”…1 Corinthians 1:23

Paul’s confidence in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus led him to proclaim,

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”…Romans 1:16

But this doesn’t change the fact that many people doubt the message of the resurrected Jesus Christ.

Of course, the Bible makes these fantastic claims about Jesus, but is it really possible to know for sure? Did it happen too long ago for us to know for sure? It is not possible to prove it scientifically, is it? Could it be just another unreliable legend that was told by gullible people in ancient times? This, again, is where apologetics, the practice of defending something by providing evidence and arguments to support it, is needed. So, is there any evidence that someone in the 21st century can use to validate the claims of the Bible? Does it really even matter?

Before we search for the evidence, it is important to understand why critics of Jesus and His church have tried, literally since the day of His resurrection, to discredit this event. Without the resurrection being true, there is no basis for anything that Christians believe. Therefore, the apostle Paul says,

“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith is vain…If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins”…1 Corinthians 15:14, 17

So, the significance of this claim is vital not only to a Christian’s faith but his salvation as well.

Our search begins by looking at the facts of history. First, we had to ask the question: Did Jesus even exist as a real person in human history? We provided an apologetic answer to that question in our previous article in this series. It is important to begin here because if it cannot be proven that Jesus lived, then the issue of His resurrection is a moot point. So, we know without a doubt that Jesus was a real man who lived during the time described by the Bible, but is there anything in recorded history that tells us about His death and the claim of His resurrection?

There are several accounts in ancient writings that not only refer to Jesus, the living man but also how He died. Around A.D. 115, in his final work titled “Annals” (book 15, chapter 44), the Roman historian and Senator, Tacitus, wrote, “their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilatus.” This was a claim that was also confirmed by two other Roman historians, Suetonius and Cassius Dio. These Romans had nothing to gain by verifying what all four of the gospel accounts in the Bible testify of, which gives tremendous validity to the Bible account.

Even the Babylonian Talmud, which is a commentary on Jewish laws composed between A.D. 500-600, mentions Jesus’ death in the Tractate Sanhedrin (43a).

It states:

“Jesus was hanged on Passover Eve. Forty days previously, the herald had cried, “He is being led out for stoning because he has practiced sorcery and led Israel astray and enticed them into apostasy. Whosoever has anything to say in his defense, let him come and declare it.” As nothing was brought forward in his defense, he was hanged on Passover Eve.”

This proves to be a very valuable claim because the Jews, enemies of Jesus, would never provide anything that would add to Jesus’ credibility. But that is exactly what they did by recording for us a historical record of not only Jesus’ death but the way He died.

Professor Emeritus of History at Miami University, Edwin Yamauchi, says,

“Even if we did not have the New Testament or Christian writings, we would be able to conclude from such non-Christian writings such as Josephus, the Talmud, Tacitus, and Pliny that He [Jesus—ss} was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius.”

There is more than enough historical evidence to show us that Jesus’ death, its method, and its timing agree with the Bible. So, Jesus was clearly crucified, but did He actually die? This is a question that men like Hugh Schonfield, in his book, “The Passover Plot,” have been asking. Schonfield, a skeptic of Jesus’ death and resurrection, proposed what he calls the “Swoon Theory” back in 1965. This theory claims that Christ did not die on the cross but that He merely “swooned” or fainted. Then, after His body was laid in a cold tomb, He revived and simply walked out.

There are many issues that can be raised about this theory, such as how a man who had been brutally beaten and then hung on a Roman cross all day had the strength to remove the “extremely large” (Mark 16:4) stone that sealed the tomb. Once outside the tomb, how did He avoid the guards that Pilate placed there to watch the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66)? But the most compelling evidence is found when you research what a Roman crucifixion was like. For detailed information, you can read the study done by the Journal of the American Medical Association in March 1986 or the scientific report done by Brad Harrub and Bert Thompson in 2002. These papers go into extreme detail about the brutality of this form of capital punishment. It becomes clear that this was almost an art form for the Roman soldiers who carried out such a death. There was no possible way that the Roman centurion who oversaw this crucifixion would have let anyone remove the body from the cross until he knew for sure that He was dead. Failure to do so would constitute a violation of the edict he was given to follow and could have led to his own execution for being so careless. We can be very confident that Jesus had truly breathed His last.

The gospel accounts then reveal the incredible event of the tomb, where Jesus’ body had been laid, being found empty. There are, once again, many skeptics who make many different claims as to what happened to the body of Jesus. But let us look at what people said about it who lived much closer to the time it happened. In A.D. 165, Justin Martyr recorded a letter that had been written which stated,

“A godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilean deceiver, whom we crucified, but his disciples stole him by night from the tomb where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven.”

Here, once again, we have a historical statement that validates the Bible, in detail, with the story the Jewish leaders began spreading immediately after the tomb was found empty (Matthew 28:11-15).

The sixth-century Jewish text that claims to be an alternative biography of Jesus, known as Toledoth Yeshu, tries to paint a completely different picture of the man called Jesus. It claims that He was the illegitimate son of a soldier named Joseph Pandera and that He became a disrespectful deceiver who led men away from the truth. But when mentioning Jesus’ tomb after He was killed, it says,

“A diligent search was made, and Jesus was not found in the grave where he had been buried. A gardener had taken him from the grave and had brought him into his garden and buried him in the sand over which the waters flowed into the garden.”

Being a Jewish text intent on discrediting Jesus, they had no idea that they were actually providing evidence that men thousands of years later would use.

So, even though the attempts were made to disparage, disgrace, and dishonor Jesus, no matter what the accusations were that were thrown at Him, one fact continues to remain true. The tomb of Christ had nobody in it! No, this does not prove that Jesus had risen from the dead, but piece by piece, we are able to put together the puzzle of what exactly happened so long ago. And with every piece that falls into place, the Biblical accounts recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are proven accurate and continue to stand the test of time. This, once again, is why we are to

“Always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you…”…1 Peter 3:16

Steve Schinnerer
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Steve Schinnerer was raised in the church in Scott City, KS where his father served as an elder for 25 years.  Steve attended Oklahoma Christian for one year where he met his wife, Jennifer, of Yukon, OK.  Steve and Jenni have four children: Ajay, Jagger, Liberty, and Jase, they also have 4 grandchildren. Jenni is a stay-at-home mom where she homeschools and is focused on raising her children in the Lord.

Steve and Jenni both attended Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver where they graduated: Steve with a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Theology, and Jenni with and Associates degree in Bible. 

Following Bear Valley, Steve and his family moved to Porter, OK where he served as their pulpit minister for six years, and then another six years as the pulpit minister for the Cherokee Hills church of Christ in Oklahoma City before coming to Cave Springs in the fall of 2013.

Steve and Jenni have a passion to teach the saving message of Jesus Christ and do so whether it be in their home congregation, at summer camps, gospel meetings, lectureships, or in the foreign mission field.  Steve has been able to preach in eight different countries around the world with most of his time abroad spent in Africa and Australia.  Steve and Jenni have recently been focusing on young families, trying to help strengthen marriages, encouraging parents to utilize Biblical discipline and training with their children and especially in helping men in their battle to become the husbands and fathers that God desires for them to be.